When I heard about the Sonoma County fires, my first thought was hoping everyone was okay, especially since I have coworkers who live in the area. My second thought was wondering what it meant for the trip I was planning with three friends 10 days later to Sonoma and Napa. We debated still going, but our VRBO understandably cancelled; their house was spared but it sounded like Glen Ellen had a lot of damage.
We tossed around the idea of going to Willamette County in Oregon. Changing our flights would have been pretty expensive though so we regrouped and looked at where we could go if we still flew into SFO. My main hope was that we could have a similar trip to what we planned: Wine, hiking, more wine. What we ended up with was that and more.
Day one: Cruising down the coast
Coming from landlocked Indianapolis, driving down Highway 1 was pretty spectacular. We headed to Santa Cruz to visit Bonny Doon’s tasting room, with a pit stop in town to stroll the boardwalk and kill some time. This quirky vineyard was a great way to start the trip. My favorite wine was a Cabernet Franc that was not only delicious but had a really cool label designed by artist David Choe.
We then ventured down to Monterrey where we had some of the best truffle fries ever in the cutest beer garden at Alvarado Street Brewery. Next up was a private one-hour sail in the bay, which was absolutely gorgeous. I could have sat on that sailboat all day but we had to move on to Carmel and check in to the Pine Inn.
Our original plan was to stay in a three-bedroom house with a pool and hot tub. I was a little apprehensive about four ladies piled into one room, but we lucked out with a super spacious suite that had a king bed and couch in the bedroom and a queen pullout sofa in a solarium-type room. There was even a third room with a dining table.
Day two: Santa Lucia Highlands
I kicked off the day with a 10-mile run along Carmel’s Scenic Road and up part of Highway 1. It was surreal watching the sun rise over the mountains and cast colors onto the water. It was also hilly as fuck but I’ll keep those miles close to my heart for awhile.
When we had to re-route, I was concerned about missing out on the Sonoma County wineries. I wasn’t sure what this new area would offer but it delivered and then some. We drove about an hour out and worked our way back toward Carmel with stops at four wineries:
- Smith Family Wines: Started on a high note with an incredible view, the most adorable patio, and super friendly/knowledgeable staff. My favorite was a white blend from their Paraiso label.
- Hahn Wines: We wanted to take in more of the scenery this time so instead of doing a tasting inside, we bought a bottle of the Rose to enjoy on the terrace. They have a cat on staff who was hanging out there so I was basically in love with this place.
- Wrath Wines: This vineyard came recommended by a few friends but we weren’t super impressed. Part of that may be that we were getting hungry and they ran out of cheese plates… No favorites to note here, but we did manage to find a McDonalds on the way to the last winery. Pro tip: Bring food with you!
- Odonata Wines: The one good thing that came from our stop at Wrath was the recommendation to visit Odonata. It was a smaller production with just three dudes on staff who all looked like they should own a brewery. They were friendly, passionate, and just the right amount of sassy for our group. I ended up shipping three bottles of the Cabernet Sauvignon home. Pro tip: Indiana laws are effed up so not everyone can ship to us. I should have checked a bag so I could bring back more.
Back in Carmel, we cracked open a bottle of the white blend from Paraiso then hit the town. The highlights: A ridiculous meal at Basil, rooftop drinks at Vesuvio, shooting the shit with Parker at Sade’s, and having a bunch of rich guys who were more than happy to flaunt their millions pay for our drinks at Barmel.
Day three: Hiking and more wine (because duh)
After a light breakfast at Belle, we drove down Highway 1, across the infamous bridge, and into Big Sur. Unfortunately a lot of the trails were closed but the park ranger guided us to Buzzards Roost which promised panoramic views for the low, low price of a steep (to us) climb. It was worth it though and we managed to beat the rush.
Since it had been a few hours without wine, we naturally spent the rest of the day hopping around tasting rooms in Carmel. There are probably at least 20 in town, which is both convenient and dangerous.
- Scratch: These Cali wineries know the way to my heart: Wine + art. The tasting room doubles a gallery so you can sip your flight while strolling around.
- Trio Carmel: We had a great time here with a server who was willing to go off the tasting menu and give us some fun pours, including a cider he designed the label for. My favorite though was an Albarino by La Marea, a style I had never had, and a unique red blend by Le P’tit Paysan.
- Caraccioli Cellars: We had our first and only charcuterie plate here, which paired perfectly with a flight that focused on bubbly. I loved the Brut Cuvee and Brut Rose and was super bummed to find out they don’t ship to Indiana. Though that means they do distribute and I can keep an eye out for their label.
- A.W. Shucks: Not a tasting room, but a dinner spot. I’m not a big fan of seafood but I did enjoy the crab cake and my trip-mates devoured the oysters (gag).
I will definitely get to Sonoma/Napa eventually but this trip worked out so well and we discovered a region I never knew had such great wineries. I would highly recommend this area for your next getaway!